Inconsistent Terminology for Emerging Technologies

Inconsistent Terminology for Emerging Technologies

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Inconsistent Terminology for Emerging Technologies

Emerging technologies affect not only the computing world but other worlds as well. In the past ten years the English language has expanded to include new terms such as blog and instant messaging. Unfortunately, not all new words are reviewed and approved by a central source and often common terminology fragments into different styles and usage. Perhaps the word web site best typifies this behavior. Although a web site is hardly new in terms of technology, publications have been rife with inconsistent usage. However, of the various permutations, the etymology of web site is the most practical.

Most traditional sources such as the American Psychological Association Style Guide seem to skirt the issue altogether with a list that includes Web and e-mail, but not site. Or, when electronic sources are cited, they are listed as being found “on-line” (APA).

While traditional style guides have often outlined best practices for grammar and terminology, only a few published style guides are dedicated to the forum of the World Wide Web. One of the oldest web-dedicated style guides, the Yale Style Guide, makes no direct reference to the usage of the term web site, but consistently refers to it as Web site. Additionally, Gerry McGovern’s Web Content Style Guide adheres to the one-word usage of website. However, the same book curiously advises two different usages of the word web. The use of a capitalized Web is recommended when the word is used on its own to refer to the World Wide Web (example; The Web has grown immensely in popularity.). The second use is a lowercase web, when the word is used as an adjective, such as web users (McGovern 2002).

A brief look at online web dictionaries and terminology guides may indicate that Web site is the most popular term. Webopaedia uses the Web site as an entry, as well as NetLingo. But when turning to the experts of the Web, such as Jakob Nielsen, one will discover that Nielsen voices stong opinions about web usability standards but goes against the grain in his use of the term website.

In 1997, Wired magazine launched a short-lived companion site to its published handbook WiredStyle with the following explanation for its use of Web site:

"Web" is a proper noun, and so deserves its initial cap. When using "Web" as a modifier, we keep the cap and strongly resist the urge to close "Web" up with other nouns.

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The Wired staff offers an interesting viewpoint on “web-ifying” words. In cases where a word cannot stand alone and have meaning, the word is blended with web, and not capitalized. For example, suffixes such as “-zine” and “-log” cannot stand on their own as well as when blended into terms such as webzine and weblog, respectively. This viewpoint mirrors the first part of usage of the term web as a descriptor outlined in McGovern’s Web Content Style Guide. However, using this rationale, one could easily argue that web site and home page should be treated as two-word phrases. Page and site are self-explanatory nouns; and web should be a descriptor for them. A book page is a page from a book. A building site is a site where something is presumably built. A crash site is the location of an accident. However, these words are not morphed into bookpage, buildingsite and crashsite. Therefore, web site should remain two separate words.

As far as capitalization of terms, it makes more sense in terms of consistency to keep web lowercase. Although Web site is often-used in order to preserve the proper noun status of World Wide Web; blended forms of web are often not capitalized (example; webmaster, webhead). For the sake of consistency, every instance should be capitalized – or not at all.

Ultimately, until the global community reaches critical mass on which format to use, the only thing that can be controlled is one’s own terminology. Corporations with a web presence must find a style and use it consistently through all communications – memos, emails, brochures, and of course, web sites.

Works Cited

American Psychological Association. Electronic spelling guide. Retrieved October 4, 2003, from

McGovern, G. (2002).The web content style guide. London: Pearson Education Limited.

NetLingo. Retrieved October 4, 2003 from

Webopaedia. Retrieved October 4, 2003 from

WiredStyle. Retrieved October 4, 2003 from

Yale Style Guide. Retrieved October 4, 2003 from
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